St. Louis Blues 2021-22 Forward Line Combinations 2.0

When the St. Louis Blues got Mackenzie MacEachern and Logan Brown through waivers, they essentially set their roster for opening night. All that is left now is to attempt more guesses as to who may play on which line.

It was a tougher task when there were still question marks as to who might make the team. Now that we know the 23 guys who will open up 2021-22, it’s easier to venture a guess that may prove to be correct.

With that in mind, let’s take another look at which trios may open up together when the Blues hit the ice in Colorado.

Best guess at the opening night lines

Neal, O’Reilly, Perron

Is James Neal a top-line player at this point of his career? Absolutely not.

However, he played with the top line and fit in quite well. He compliments Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron by providing a little grit that the other two lack.

Neal is not going to get into scraps like Tom Wilson, but he’s going to stick up for his teammates. Additionally, he is more than willing to shoot and will drive the net. Both of those options would open things up for both Perron and the captain.

Buchnevich, Schenn, Kyrou

The main reason Neal may end up on the top line is to get Kyrou onto his preferred wing. It is still quite likely the youngster ends up on O’Reilly’s line, but I think the Blues will put him in a spot where he’s on the right to start with.

Pavel Buchnevich and Brayden Schenn are versatile players that will generate the space for Kyrou with their hard nosed play. If this is the line Schenn gets much of the year, he’s going to get a ton of points. If Neal ends up on this line, it will still be effective, but play a slightly heavier style than we may see from Kyrou on that wing.

Saad, Thomas, Tarasenko

There is a good chance that Brandon Saad could end up higher in the roster, but he played well with Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko. I think Craig Berube goes with this trio to start, with the option to swap Saad with one of the other wingers should things not go as planned.

The benefit of this line is that you have a top-line quality winger and a center you still hope will ascend to a number one eventually playing on your third line. They’re going to be going against second and third pairing defenders and either third or fourth line forwards. For most teams, this will be a matchup nightmare.

Kostin/Neighbours, Bozak, Barbashev

In my initial article, I did not have Tyler Bozak on the fourth line. I just did not feel the Blues would “demote” him to that role just yet.

However, given the signing of Neal, that took away one of the wing spots in the top nine. There’s no sense to put Bozak on the wing if you don’t really have a hole. He’s much better on the dot and this could be a pretty dynamic fourth line.

Again, even with any and all four of these choices at various stages of their career, this could be a tough matchup for other team’s lines. Bozak still has hockey left in the tank, Ivan Barbashev can switch from physicality to scorer and Jake Neighbours and Klim Kostin both provide a big body that can score if necessary.

Second choice line combinations

Kyrou, O’Reilly, Perron

Jordan Kyrou fit quite well with these two stalwarts. He looked comfortable, despite being on his off wing at times.

The really interesting thing about this line is that the two wingers would essentially interchange. When they were utilized together during the preseason, they would swap at times, sometimes having Perron on his off wing and Kyrou on the right and then vice versa.

If both wings become comfortable playing on the off side, that just makes this line very versatile and dynamic. They can pick and choose who is playing on the left and right based on matchups too.

Saad, Schenn, Buchnevich

While none of these guys are going to put you through the boards too often, this would be a very heavy line. I don’t mean huge bodies, but they just play a heavy game where they can bully their way past people or rough them up to win the puck back.

Buchnevich is a lot bigger in person than his physical stats would lead you to believe. While he would much rather skate past players, he showed a very quick adaptation to the Blues more physical style during the preseason. As long as he doesn’t wear himself out, he’ll fit in very well.

We know what Schenn provides. Saad has proven himself with multiple teams and provides multiple facets to his game. He drives the net, which would give Schenn a slight respite and he’s got a lethal shot too.

Neal, Thomas, Tarasenko

Neal probably won’t be a 30-goal scorer any longer, but he can still get the puck into the back of the net. Any kind of scoring possibility takes the pressure off Vladimir Tarasenko, which opens him up to focus on scoring.

Though we’d like him to assert himself more, Thomas has shown a versatility in terms of fitting in with different wingers. Outside of the faceoff circle, Neal would provide a similar game to what Bozak offered Thomas. Playing with a pure sniper like Tarasenko should rack up the assists.

Kostin/Neighbours, Bozak, Barbashev

This line pretty much stayed the same. No reason to mess with a potentially good thing.

The only real change would be the possibility of Kyle Clifford sliding into one of the wing spots if you’re playing a rougher team. I would not expect Clifford to play against Colorado, given their speed, but you cannot count him out of the mix.

Additionally, we could see Neighbours slide into a top-nine role. He fit in quite well with just about everyone he played with, so it would mainly depend on what role Craig Berube wanted him to be in that night.

One thing we must remember regarding Neighbours is that his usage will somewhat depend on how quickly the team believes Oskar Sundqvist will return. If there is a thought Sundqvist might not return in early November, then Neighbours’ appearances will get spaced out. You don’t want to play him in nine, consecutive games only to find out you have to make a decision on his NHL status with Sundqvist out 2-3 weeks more.

While many national pundits question the Blues’ capability to contend in 2021-22, this team is built to win. They are not going to overpower anyone, blaze past anyone or light up the scoreboard unlike anyone else.

However, they do everything well. They pose many matchup problems due to their depth and they have versatility.

The guys that might be in the pressbox one night are fully capable of playing a top nine role for a few games. That’s a big reason whey the 2018-19 Blues won. They were not the most talented on paper, but everyone stepped into their role perfectly and played above it when there was a hole that needed plugging. This team might have similar success.